Earn it through your own efforts
Work harder than others
Respect and build good relationships with co-workers, you never know where you land next
Be hungry to seek advice from successful people
Never stop learning
Is the American Dream still alive? If you speak to many of the immigrants we spoke to, who came to this country with nothing but grit, resilience, and a dream, they will tell you that it certainly is still alive.
As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Eugene Zhang.
Eugene Zhang is a Founding Partner of TSVC, a Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm focused on building and scaling early-stage technology startups. Eugene’s investment focus is emerging technologies and FinTech, and he has led investments in over 70 startups including ZOOM, Quanergy, Lex Machina, Musely, TrustGo, Carta, Gingko BioWorks, Gaatu, EquityZen,17Zuoye and GigaDevice. Eugene holds a Master of Science in Communications Engineering from Syracuse University, and a Bachelor and Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from Tsinghua University, Beijing.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I was born in Shanghai and then moved with my parents to Xian when I was 8, my father was an engineer and my mother was a high school teacher. In 1977 when I was in 10th grade, China restored college entrance exams (GaoKao) and I turned all my energy to my studies. I was lucky enough to be admitted into Tsinghua University in 1980 after skipping one grade. I was the only one admitted to Tsinghua that year from the community high school, back then It was kind of a big deal, especially for my parents.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell us the story?
During 1980 to 1988, China went through drastic social changes, especially on campus. We had native English speakers from Ireland, Australia, and America as English teachers in our English as a second language classes. Hollywood movies were also extremely popular. Tsinghua University was created as a prep school for students to come to the US for college degrees almost 110 years ago. During college I had this dream to go to USA to get my graduate degree and in 1989 the dream came true when I got a 10K USD loan for my tuition from a remote family member in Taiwan.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
In 1989, I first went to Japan and was admitted into Tokyo University’s PhD program, as I was learning Japanese. I applied for a US visa for admittance to Syracuse University, and I was very lucky to receive it. I came to USA directly from Japan, my dream finally came true.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
The loan of 10K USD from my uncle in Taiwan made my dream to go to the US possible.
So how are things going today?
By many standards, things are very good. From the work perspective, I have been in Silicon Valley for 30 years and was fortunate enough to work with many smart and talented people. Because of that, my first engineering job at Amdahl led to SUN, Cisco and Juniper. When I worked on my startup JEDA I partnered with people I had worked with before. On my personal life front, I have been married for 29 years and have two boys who are working in the high-tech industry.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Professionally, I always try to inspire entrepreneurs to follow their dreams and aim high. As a VC this is a main driving force of our success.
Many people vary on the timing of personal giving. I gradually started a few years ago. So far, I focus on donations to school related programs including Tsinghua education funds.
You have firsthand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you suggest improving the system?
I would massively loosen the restrictions on the inflow of talents from around the world. So, 1) any PhDs and his/her direct family members can get Green Cards immediately upon receiving the degree 2) this would apply to any Master’s degree as well, and 3) people who have a BSc in engineering and science.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
- Earn it through your own efforts
- Work harder than others
- Respect and build good relationships with co-workers, you never know where you land next
- Be hungry to seek advice from successful people
- Never stop learning
I worked at Amdahl as my first job. Because of the people I worked with, I later landed a job at SUN. An Amdahl colleague later recruited me into Cisco. Also, my project lead at SUN later became a co-founder at Juniper Networks and recruited me into Juniper. I first ventured into a startup with a co-worker. On my second startup, I teamed up with two Juniper co-workers. Building relationships is crucial.
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
The environment where scientists have the genuine passion and freedom to peruse fundamental research with a long-term perspective, that is still the best way to lead the world in science and technology advances. The US must continue to attract top talents from around the world, if that stops, my optimism will fade. The US still has the best universities and research institutes, the national policy must keep them that way.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Reed Hastings, I read his book “No Rules Rules”. He built such a strong yet so anti-conventional company culture that became the secret source of Netflix’s success.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!